By Denise Tucker (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Ryan Worley has been part of successful basketball programs throughout his coaching career, and last year he brought that winning tradition with him to New Covenant Academy.
Worley served as the head coach at Sparta and Hollister high schools, and then as an assistant at Parkview and Kickapoo high schools, as well as College of the Ozarks, which included C of O’s NAIA-II national championship squad in 2006 and national runner-up team in 2009.
In his first season as New Covenant’s head coach in 2018-2019, Worley led the Warriors to a 20-6 overall record and 6-0 in the Mark Twain Conference.
That success earned the Warriors a No. 2 seed in the Class 2 District 10 tournament behind eventual state champion Greenwood, but New Covenant fell to Blue Eye in the district semifinals. Last season’s success also has raised the expectations for Worley and the Warriors.
“We strengthened our nonconference schedule by adding Fair Grove (Class 3), Aurora (Class 4) and the Crane Tournament with the idea that it will allow us to compete for another conference championship and to be in the top half of our district,” Worley said.
Another key to the Warriors’ success included six players lost to graduation.
“The six seniors from last season will be incredible hard to replace, but they helped set a high bar for our returners to aim for,” Worley said.
• Tim Smith, averaged 19 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and shot 64 percent from the field. He was the conference player of the year, first-team all-district, and now is playing at Evangel University. He left New Covenant as the all-time leading scorer with 1,724 career points, putting him No. 8 in Springfield schools career scoring. “He was a four-year varsity starter and his ability to make baskets, as well as his experience, can’t be replaced by one guy,” Worley said.
• Cameron Altena, averaged 10 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 3.5 APG and shot 55 percent from the field. He was a second-team all-conference selection and now is playing at Southwest Baptist University. “He was a four-year varsity starter and His leadership in our locker room and on the floor will be hard to replace. He was the ultimate team player, he sacrificed his own personal goals and numbers for the betterment of the whole (team).”
• Brennan Williams, averaged 10 PPG, 7 RPG, 2 APG and shot 48 percent from the field, and was an honorable mention all-conference pick. “His athleticism and strength will be missed from last season. He was a great finisher that could be counted on to either grab a big rebound or basket at crucial times of games.”
• Logan Jackson – “Logan was a great defender and if we were struggling to score, he would always be counted on to get a steal and layup or make something happen on the defensive side of the floor to get us going.”
• Trey Stutzman – “Trey was a great on-the-ball defender that could change the game with his pressure. He hit some big shots for us and had the ability to score in bunches.”
• Johnathan Dille – “He was instant offense off the bench. We would not have been 6-0 in conference if it wasn’t for him coming into our game versus School of the Ozarks and hitting some big shots to spark us to a comeback.”
New Covenant doesn’t have experience returning in quantity, but it does in quality.
• Garrett Simmerman, 6-9 senior forward, was first-team all-district and all-conference pick last season. “He is a very skilled big man that can stretch the floor with his ability to step outside and shoot from the 3-point line. But, his strength is his ability to score the ball in the paint with either hand. He has been receiving multiple college interest ranging from Division II to NAIA schools.”
• Nathan Good, 6-3 junior forward. “He missed the second half of the season with an injury but was able to sit with the coaches and continue to learn our system. Nathan has a high basketball IQ and is a natural leader that makes everyone around him better. He is a great passer that has the ability to post his man up or step out and shoot the ball. We will look for him to have a great season now that he is healthy.”
“We don’t have a lot of returning experience, but I like the guys we do have,” Worley said. “We have one of the best players and big men in the area in Simmerman, and we will need to run a lot of stuff through him. Nathan Good has had a great offseason and will be healthy, which will be a nice addition to our offense and should take some of the pressure off Simmerman to carry the load. Along with that, we will need our other guys to step up and be ready to play sooner than they probable expected to.
“We hope to be able to compete night in and night out because of the buy-in from our guys. This is their second season of a new system and they are more confident and comfortable in what we are trying to get done.”
Newcomers Worley looks to compete for varsity minutes include Tanner Engle, Brady Heseman, Noah Dawley, Tyler Crum, Nathan Altena, Peyton Rohlfing and Riley Wolf.
• Tanner Engle, a 6-0 freshman point guard, will compete for our varsity point guard spot. “He played all summer with the varsity and showed that he is ready to play that position at this level. He is a great passer that sees the floor and sets his teammates up for scores but also has the ability to get his own shot at any time. I’m excited about the type of season he could have.”
• Brady Heseman, Noah Dawley and Tyler Crum (sophomores). “All three are going into year two in our program and will have the opportunity to compete for varsity minutes. They will each have to learn how to be great in their roles and that process began for them this summer as they have all used the offseason to get stronger and more skilled.”
• Nathan Altena, Peyton Rohlfing and Riley Wolf (freshmen). “This group played with the varsity group this summer and they will have an opportunity to compete for some varsity minutes this season, depending on how quickly they adjust to the speed and strength needed to play at that level.”
“A challenge could be our lack of experience and our youth,” Worley said. “How quickly our younger guys adjust to the higher level will be a determining factor to our success.”
The Warriors open the 2019-2020 season at Spokane on Nov. 22, and then will compete in the Fordland Tournament on Dec. 2-7.
“We will have some games that will allow us to use for measuring where we are, not just for the season but for our program,” Worley said. “We play Greenwood on Jan. 30 and Hartville on Feb. 14. That is to not take away from any of our other opponents because we do not have an easy game on our schedule.”